The COVID-19 pandemic may have temporarily stripped us of sporting events, but one thing it cannot take away is the heart of humanity. In these uncertain times there are no words to depict the amount of gratitude we have for frontline responders, as well as those who are helping others in need in their respective communities.
The term "frontline workers" often conjures up images of doctors, nurses or paramedics in full protective gear. However, during the pandemic these images now include people across a vast array of industries, ranging from grocery workers to delivery drivers who are making significant differences.
As millions around the world are feverishly working to help save lives, others are searching for ways to help donate their time or money. On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated had the pleasure of sitting down with Bob Wischusen, the radio play-by-play voice of the New York Jets as well as one of the top broadcasters at ESPN covering college football and basketball. Both Bob and his wife Julie are among the silent coronavirus heroes who are making prodigious contributions to their neighbors in New Jersey.
Julie drives about 25 minutes from their home to Kean University’s parking lot as a volunteer nurse assisting in a drive-thru coronavirus testing facility. For about about 20 hours a week standing outside in a surgical gown and mask, she stares into the faces of scared neighbors through what seems like a never ending line of car windows trying to tackle an enemy that has no face.
“She's a registered nurse. We have five kids, so she hasn't had a full-time job in nursing for awhile. She and a friend of ours, who is also a registered school nurse, basically said to each other one day: ‘we know a lot of people out there fighting the good fight. What can we do?’
“In as courageous a manner as possible, they took the leap of faith and decided to volunteer. For the last three and a half weeks, three times a week, they are going to the drive up testing site and volunteering,” Bob Wischusen explained.
While Julie is fighting the pandemic on the front lines, Bob is making an impact by creating a fundraiser via GoFundMe. The fundraiser called “Let’s Feed Our Heroes” collects donations that are used to purchase food for local area hospital workers and staff. The most frightening image Wischusen detailed involves the situation of a relative on the front lines as an ICU nurse working at the Hackensack University Medical Center.
“One of my cousins is an ICU nurse up in Hackensack, which is one of the hardest hit hospitals in New Jersey. They actually were forced to convert their cafeteria into an ICU ward because they ran out of room. I mean, they're basically just inventing bed space wherever they can inside the hospital. As a result, it's hard for them to get a meal,” Wischusen said.
Wischusen saw the dual benefit of assisting area businesses that have been hit hard, relying solely on take-out and deliveries, and helping those medical professionals.
“A guy that I know that runs the Irish pub in town had to shutter other than doing takeout. I'm now, at times, able to give him $1,000 worth of business. He is going to make lunch for 100 people and I am going to bring it to my wife's drive-up testing site. Then going to Morristown Medical Center and then back to Hackensack this week. I can give $500 or $1,000 worth of business to a local restaurant, while at the same time they're able to make a meal for 25, 30, 50 or a hundred people.
“I think everybody wants to feel like they're doing something. So to give a donation, no matter the size, that is going to be turned into a meal for doctors, nurses and rescue squad folks, I think makes people feel a little bit better during these times.”
The world needs a break from the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon us. For sports fans, that well-needed break is on its way next week in the form of the 2020 NFL Draft.
As the radio voice of the Jets since 2002, Wischusen shared his opinion on how he believed the Jets would approach the 11th overall pick next week.
He believes that there is an overwhelming chance that the Green and White will invest in one of the top offensive line prospects. Targeting one of the top wideouts like Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb is a smaller, but still viable option.
“I think they are 70% taking one of the tackles, assuming one of the tackles is on the board at No. 11, with a 20% chance they'll take one of the top wide receivers.”
In every draft there’s always a player or two who unexpectedly waits longer to hear their name called than many scouts or draft analysts project. With that in mind, Wischusen believes general manager Joe Douglas could be led in a different direction if one of the higher rated players on their draft board falls to them, even if it’s outside of the obvious positions of need.
“Sometimes value trumps team needs and you just can't turn (it) down—the guy that you can't even believe is still there because you've got him rated so high. I would say it's probably 10% that. Let's say they've got Isaiah Simmons rated off the charts and he's there and they just feel the need to even go in a completely different direction because they've got a player there that's so good that they can’t pass him up. In the end, I think it’s 90% either they draft a tackle or a wide receiver.”
Looking beyond the draft, Wischusen believes that with Tom Brady now out of the AFC East, the division is completely wide open for the first time in 37 years.
“This may be the first time since going back to 1983, where you can make a legit argument that the AFC East is wide open because none of these teams have that identifiable surefire, top-five quarterback. I think that there is a chance any one of the four teams (Bills, Jets, Dolphins or Patriots) could shock the world and win the division.”
Since he covers some of the best college basketball teams in the nation for ESPN, he also shared his thoughts about the loss of March Madness.
“I thought this was going to be a really fun year because there would be some of those teams at the top of the charts that have not normally been there. This could have been a year where you easily could have had Dayton and Gonzaga in the championship game. This wasn't a blue-blood year. I mean obviously Duke, Kansas or Kentucky could have won the national championship, but to me this was one of those years where if you're a college basketball purist and you really like the idea of the whole thing being up in the air and a mystery, this was your year.”
Like many sports fans around the country, he feels the most disappointed for schools like Dayton and San Diego State.
“I really feel the worst for San Diego State. When will Dayton ever get a player like Obi Toppin again? A guy that's probably gonna be at worst, top 10, maybe a top five, maybe a top three NBA draft choice? Those guys don't go to Dayton. So this was the year that they would have had a chance to make a run to the Final Four. Those are the programs I really feel the worst for.”
When asked about the most memorable game he has ever called, Wischusen brought things back to the football field. The game was back in 2011 when the Jets upset the New England Patriots 28-21 in the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs.
“They lost 45-3 earlier in the year on Monday Night Football during the regular season and then beat the Patriots up in New England. That would have to be at the top of the list. That win a decade ago up in Foxborough, in the playoffs. That's hard to beat.”
The world is facing a crisis that has forced millions to shelter in place. From chaos emerges heroes. Despite so much angst and apprehension, people are coming together to find ways to support others in this time of uncertainty. Sports are in many ways a necessary staple of everyday life. Wischusen is one of the premier voices in the country that sports fans miss and yearn to hear again soon.
In the meantime, many Americans and people around the world are restoring our faith in humanity by acting as a bridge in a time of need. Wischusen’s most impactful call may very well not involve a game-winning three-pointer or illustrating the final moments of a second Super Bowl in Jets franchise history. The best way to depict his current efforts is best encapsulated by Sam Rosen’s memorable call in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 1994 New York Rangers Stanley Cup victory: “This One Will Last a Lifetime.”
MORE FROM SI: